Exploring Academic Publishing with Innovating Communication in Scholarship (ICIS)

The audience at Alexandra Hui’s talk on November 4 included attendees from all over the university – graduate students, faculty, and librarians from departments as varied as the biological sciences, ethnomusicology, English, and cultural studies, to name a few. This is precisely the type of transdisciplinary audience that Innovating Communication in Scholarship (ICIS), a group funded by the UC Davis Interdisciplinary Frontiers in the Humanities and the Arts (IFHA), is hoping to attract to their events.

Such a diverse audience is necessary for the group to achieve its goals. ICIS is working to understand the current dramatic changes occurring in scholarly publishing and what those changes mean, both within and outside of the academy. Over the next three years, ICIS will bring speakers to campus and conduct research on academia’s current moment of transition from traditional modes of communicating academic research to an exciting – but sometimes confusing – new world of increasing openness and interdisciplinarity.

The participation of scholars from many disciplines in the group allows for the necessary diversity of perspectives on the issue. As Allison Fish, postdoctoral researcher with the project, notes, “there are broad changes that are arising in the academy, but they are landing differently in each discipline.”

This variation in impact makes the participation of a variety of departments essential to the success of their project. Knowing the history of how scholars have communicated their research, for example, helps the group to better understand what current changes might mean.

Members of the group are already discussing the way that they see these changes as unevenly distributed among different disciplines. For instance, certain fields such as physics and genomics have traditionally been “early adopters” of practices that are recently entering other fields, such as data sharing and open access publication. In contrast, other fields (for example disciplines within the humanities) have only recently begun to test the waters.

Open Access

Different disciplines have “different attitudes toward what open access might mean,” says Alexandra Lippman, another postdoctoral researcher with ICIS. Open access, the practice of making the results of academic research available free of charge, encapsulates many of the issues ICIS is working to understand.

For example, the trend in open access – spurred by the concurrent and interrelated changes in new communication technologies, information law and policy, and scholarly ethics – have accumulated to see the increasing prevalence of new publishing practices (including UC Davis’s own open access policy, passed in 2013). Open access is, however, only one aspect of these changes – some disciplines are experimenting with open peer review and other innovations as well.

What “Counts” in Scholarly Publishing

Some of these issues are not only pertinent to conversations between the academy and the public, but also to how the academy itself functions. One of ICIS’s goals, says Alexandra, is “developing or trying to think through alternative metrics for taking into account the serious work that is being done in venues that are not necessarily counted in tenure review.”

This involves exploring the kinds of writing and communication that don’t “fit in” to the current metric system, such as writing for mainstream publications, interviews, and social media practices. Depending on the field and the goal of the research, the most effective form of writing may not be the scholarly article which, as Allison notes, for her field of political and legal anthropology, can take up to three years to be published and may not have a direct impact on policy – something that many scholars within her field wish to achieve.

Another, yet related, goal of the project is to better comprehend, as Allison explains, “how social media-based and alternative scholarly communications, when done well, are relevant to research practice and, therefore, should be enveloped into our notion of what counts as productive so that they can be included in evaluation.”

New Opportunities, New Ways to Cheat

Legal context is also important in how these changes are happening. The changing landscape of publishing offers new opportunities for scholars, but also new opportunities for academic misconduct. The way we think about plagiarism, for example, may be changing, but other forms of academic dishonesty, such as disreputable publishing practices, like predatory journals and citation rings, have risen in frequency. Pressure on scholars to publish in traditional ways can take its toll.

Alexandra notes how the demands of ‘publish or perish’ combined with the reliance of, “the CV as a measure of one’s accomplishments, can provide an incentive for certain scholars to either publish plagiarized articles, publish self-plagiarized articles,” or engage in other forms of deception.

The group’s invited speakers so far this year have included Scott Edmunds, who gave a talk on the “techniques and technologies behind different forms of publishing or data publishing”; and Alexandra Hui, a historian, who gave the group and attendees an opportunity to think about scholarly communication over time, in this case in the form of ornithology and the study of the objectification and standardization of bird sounds in the early twentieth century.

Innovating Communication in Scholarship events will continue with “Data Rights and Data Wrongs,” a one-day workshop on December 10 on open data sharing. Then, on Thursday, December 11, art historian Evelyn Lincoln will give a talk on “Publication Anxiety in Early Modern Italy.”

Visit the Innovating Communication in Scholarship website for more information on ICIS and to join their mailing list.

Katja Jylkka, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in English